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Change Makers X: Mr & Mrs Smith

Perfecting the ‘Slowlife’: overcoming the storm – Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malmström, Soneva

About This Episode

In this Change Makers series in collaboration with Mr & Mrs Smith, we explore the travel industry’s role in delivering a more sustainable future in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and the growing climate emergency.

This week Michael Hayman is joined by Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malmström Shivdasani, founders of Soneva. A connection to the Maldives that started with a trip in 1995 for Eva, where she visualised potential for a new way of life. Over 25 years later, Eva and Sonu have created three stunning Soneva hotels which have responsibility, sustainability and luxury at their core.

Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malmström, Soneva

Think of Soneva’s journey as an onion, says Sonu, with endless layers of discovery, and this is what you can expect during a stay at any one of the hotels. There’s always something new to discover about how Soneva is making luxury sustainable – even when you think you’ve done everything possible. From recycling glass on site, to preserving local environments (particularly fragile marine ecosystems), to sourcing produce from local farmers and fishermen. Listen to how they have perfected the practice of the Slowlife (sustainable, local, organic, wellness, learning, inspired, fun, experiences) philosophy.

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Lockdown List

What is a book that has changed your life?

Sonu: As an entrepreneur running a business, two books have been instrumental in the way I manage and how our organization has evolved: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, and “Hostage at the Table” by George Kohlrieser. George, qualified in psychology and joined the New York Police Department (NYPD) as a Hostage Negotiator. He was taken hostage five times during his career. He then retired from the NYPD and started a second life as a Management Thinker and Business School teacher. He has been on the faculty of IMD for many years. His book is a fantastic insight into leadership, the importance of creating bonds, dealing with grief and creating new attachments, as well as about secure base leadership.

What are you watching at the moment?

Sonu: We have seen some amazing documentaries recently such as “My Octopus Teacher”, “The Little Big Farm”, and David Attenborough’s “A Life on our Planet”. Whilst Eva and I love series, we find them a bit painful as one becomes addicted and it is always a challenge to find the time. 

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Sonu: My father was a big inspiration for me. Eva continues to be one.

In one sentence, describe your ‘new normal’

Sonu: The new normal has involved considerably less travel. For the first 10 to 15 years after leaving university, a fortnight would not go by without a plane journey somewhere. Pre-pandemic, the longest I spent in any one location was six weeks. During the lockdown, I was barefoot for 15 months. Eva and I returned to the Maldives on the 24th of March, four days before the borders closed. For one reason or another, my planned trips were continuously canceled until my visit this summer in June to Sweden.

Whilst I miss traveling, it is clear that my new normal will involve less, with more achieved on Zoom. I still see myself traveling about five to six times a year, but this would be about a third of what I did in the past. I found a fantastic routine here in the Maldives where we are and found that I manage to have so much more time to do things that I have always wanted to, but have never been able to find the time to.

What is your best tip for life?

Sonu: I love two sayings from Einstein: “One must be prepared to give up who one is in order to become who one will” and “When one stops learning, one starts dying”

A quote for life

Sonu: My personal quote for life based on having encountered many crises during my career is:

“In one aspect, humans and organizations are like coastlines. It is the storms that shape and define us. Often, it is our response to these storms that leads to our future success.”

What five tracks would make up your lockdown soundtrack?


  • “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson  
  • “We Are The Champions” by Queen  
  • “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor  
  • “Touch Me in the Morning” by Diana Ross (It is such an upbeat song)  
  • “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins  

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